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Can I notarize a document that is already signed?


Many notaries are presented with a document that is already signed and aren't sure whether or not they can proceed. This question can be answered by reviewing the two basic notarial acts: acknowledgments and oaths.


An acknowledgment is a declaration by the signer of a document that he or she has executed the document freely and voluntarily. Since the signer is only acknowledging his or her signature, the signature could have been affixed some days, weeks, months, or even years earlier. As long as the signer is personally present before the notary and acknowledges the signature, then the notary can proceed with performing the notarial act.

A notary's certificate of acknowledgment should always reflect the date on which the signer personally appeared before the notary. When notating the transaction in your journal, you should list both the date of the notarial act (the date on which the signer appeared before you), and the date of the document (the date the document was actually signed).

An oath or affirmation requires that the signer appear before you, swear or affirm to the truthfulness of the statements made in the document, and sign the document in your presence. This is evidenced by the words "subscribed before me" which are present in many jurats notarial certificates. When a person takes an oath, their signature signifies the acceptance of it. For this reason, it is necessary to observe the person appearing before you affix his or her signature to the document. If the document has already been signed, the signer can sign his or her name again above or next to the first signature. You can then proceed with the notarization. You may want to notate in your journal that the signer was instructed to sign again in your presence.

Of course, always refer to your own state's laws for the most accurate and up to date information for your state.

-- Robert T. Koehler, Florida Notary Educator, is a Contributing Writer with the American Association of Notaries

Legal Disclaimer: The American Association of Notaries is committed to providing accurate and up-to-date information. However, it is important to note that the information provided on this page is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as legal advice. We do not claim to be attorneys and do not guarantee the accuracy, completeness, or reliability of the information provided. It is your responsibility to know the appropriate notary laws governing your state. You should always seek the advice of a licensed attorney for any legal matters. In no event shall the American Association of Notaries, its employees, or contractors be liable to you for any claims, penalties, losses, damages, or expenses, howsoever arising, including, and without limitation, direct or indirect loss, or consequential loss, out of or in connection with the use of the information contained on any of the American Association of Notaries website pages. Notaries are advised to seek the advice of their state’s notary authorities or attorneys if they have legal questions. 

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